After being released from jail

After being released from jail

SPECIAL SERIES: Treating an ‘invisible condition’

Canada has some of the best practices in the world when it comes to dealing with mental illness. They’re just not well-funded, experts say.

On Monday afternoon, Brian Bylo stepped out of a provincial jail after 75 days of incarceration and into a sunbathed path leading to his father’s car.

Three days ago, Bylo was released from the Fraser Valley Regional Correctional Facility after being locked up. Again.

Bylo has been to jail 30 times in the last four years, mostly for missing appointments with probation officers and court, as well as some petty theft offences.

The 30-year-old, who suffers from schizophrenia, made the unfortunate choice in 2008 to dabble with illicit drugs. Now, with coexisting conditions (addiction and schizophrenia), he is bounced between emergency wards that want him to deal with his addiction, and treatment facilities that find it difficult working with serious mental illness.

On Monday, stabilized on anti-psychotic medication, he was picked up by his father and Delta resident Gordon Bylo, who will take his son for a court-ordered stay at VisionQuest Recovery Society, a well-respected Surrey-based alcohol and drug recovery centre in Chilliwack.

Gordon hopes this time, Brian can get a handle on long-term healing.

With his dual diagnosis – mental illness and addiction – Brian Bylo is one of society’s most hard to help.

Over the last six weeks, The Leader has been examining the effects of mental illness on the system as a whole – from policing and the courts, to treatment centres and hospitals, to families and the sufferers themselves.

Surprisingly, despite the struggles of families such as the Bylos, when it comes to dealing with mental illness, Canada rates quite well internationally. This country is a leader in mental health practices, experts say.

However, with more funding, Canada could do so much better.Hard to Help logo

A recent report tabled by the Mental Health Commission of Canada recommended that the nation increase the share of total health care dollars allocated to mental illness from seven to nine per cent over the next decade.

The price tag for that increase would be about $4 billion. But it’s argued that expenditure would actually save money, as it’s estimated mental health issues cost the Canadian economy about $50 billion annually.

Specifically, more housing, more addictions services, and more long-term psychiatric inpatient treatment are needed, experts say Without those things, many people are falling through the gaps.

As recent Leader stories have shown, those left untreated put pressure on the justice system, police departments and emergency rooms.

Vancouver lawyer Geoffrey Cowper, who was asked by the B.C. attorney general last year to review the province’s chronically clogged court system, is recommending wholesale changes to the system. He says the creation of community courts – where the mentally ill get medical attention, rather than being warehoused in jail – would be part of the solution.

Surrey has been lobbying for such a community court for years, but haven’t received a commitment from the province.

Those with mental illness and addiction also face hurdles in hospital. They are often turned away from emergency wards and told they have to get over their addiction first.

Brian Jacobson, coordinator for Surrey’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, believes addiction and mental health need to be managed simultaneously.

“If I was king for a day, I sure would like to see long-term treatment for substance abuse,” Jacobson said.

Once addiction is addressed, one of the most important things for the mentally ill is stable shelter, which is where ACT comes in.

“We’re trying to secure housing for our clients, and it’s a barrier,” Jacobson said.

Sherry Mumford, director of mental health and addictions for Fraser Health Authority, says it all comes down to more funding.

“How do we intervene? We need to fund more,” Mumford says.

“The solution is to treat it like a health care issue and put the appropriate amount of dollars into the services so we can intervene earlier with these people.”

While Canada allocates about seven per cent of its total health care funding for mental health issues, that figure drops to five per cent in Fraser Health.

Psychiatrists say that amount is not anywhere near enough.

“There’s huge gaps,” says Dr. Joti Samra. “We simply aren’t well equipped, there aren’t the numbers of existing agencies and  services to serve the need… If you look at us as a country, as a province, the mental health services just don’t get funded in the same way the physical health services do.”

Gordon and Brian ByloSamra calls mental illness the “invisible condition” because, while it may be more serious, it’s not as obvious as a broken leg.

“We need to have psychiatric inpatient facilities that provide services to high-needs individuals,” Samra said. “We need to continue to lobby for increased funding to put toward the intensity of care and resources.”

But many critics say mental health care isn’t an effective bullet item on a re-election brochure, so while the need is there, the dollars don’t follow.

Until the public starts hollering for it, the funding won’t arrive.

Which leaves Gordon Bylo with just one thing as he shepherds his son to his next treatment option.

Hope.

kdiakiw@surreyleader.com

 

This is the final instalment of The Leader’s “Hard to Help” series.Click here to read the full series.

WE SAY: Read our editorial.

YOU SAY: Read your letters to the editor:

• So many questions, but few answers

• ‘Together, we can change lives’

• Ignoring the mentally ill

• Make an effort for the mentally ill

• Mental illness an election priority

• ‘There is hope for a good life’

• ‘Mark my words: This will end badly.’

 

Surrey North Delta Leader